I recently had the great fortune to travel throughout the Andalucía region of Spain with a best friend. She, like I, is fascinated by food and drink. Early on in the planning stages we decided to make this trip a culinary adventure- we vowed to eat only traditional fair and sip only local wines and beer. How did we fulfill this vow? Every evening we embarked upon the traditional Spanish tapas crawl. Tapas, or “little dishes,” originated in the 19th century. The word derives from “tapar,” meaning “to cover,” and originally, tapas were slices of ham or sausage placed over top a glass of sherry to keep the flies away. Today many varieties of these small bites exist… from thin slices of dry cured Serrano ham, to Manchego (a semi-hard to hard sheep’s milk cheese) to gazpacho, potato omelets, olives and tuna….the list goes on and on.
Spaniards eat very late and by 9pm we yearned for the crawl to begin. While in Seville, we found a small bar with hundreds of cured hams hanging from the ceiling. My first tapas dish of Spain: thinly sliced Iberico de Bellota (a dry cured ham from pigs with a diet of mainly acorns) with a glass of fino sherry. Heaven.
The evening continued with traditional gazpacho, deep fried eggplant drizzled with honey, chorizo bocadillos (small sandwiches) and ham croquettes. After Seville we travelled down to Malaga and forever enjoyed Moscatel, a famous sweet wine from the region. We discovered the oldest bar and spent the afternoon tasting different variations poured straight from the barrel.
Off to Grenada and here we discovered something wonderful. For every drink one buys, free tapas ensue….on this tapas crawl we tasted thinly sliced Serrano with large chunks of Manchego drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, tuna with roasted red peppers, olives, potato omelets…and our new discovery, Alhambra beer, made right in Grenada.
And our last stop, Jaen, the world’s largest producer of olive oil, did not disappoint. Here is where I found my most favorite dish of the trip…so simple yet so delicious. Freshly baked bread drizzled with extra virgin olive oil (made in the region surrounding Jaen) topped with thick slices of Manchego. Every time I took a bite, olive oil drizzled down my chin. I found something quite special about traveling throughout the region by bus, staring out the window for hours seeing nothing but endless miles of olive groves and then consuming the oils produced from the olives of these trees.
With our culinary adventure complete, it was time to come home. I wanted to stay. I didn’t want to leave. Yet, I realized throughout the trip I could easily replicate so many of my favorite dishes because of our offerings at Feast! Serrano, Manchego, Spanish olive oil, olives, dried fruits, nuts, Ortiz tuna (I saw the jar that we carry in a store front in Seville!), roasted red peppers, eggs and potatoes.
I immediately thought of café sandwich specials: Thinly sliced Serrano ham with slices of manchego, drizzled with copious amounts of Spanish olive oil on fresh Albemarle Baking Company baguette. Or possibly Ortiz tuna with roasted red peppers and sliced olives on fresh ciabatta soaked in Spanish olive oil. Simplicity described every dish I loved- reminding me that simplicity always prevails when the ingredients are of such high quality. Although our travels came to a close, the trip opened my eyes to so much more…my culinary adventure continues.